Being an enthusiast of following several teams closely, it’s only natural that playoff fever has hit me a bit earlier than for my nervous Rangers do or die fan counterparts. The great part of watching several teams is that you gain a perspective which you don’t get when your head is so far gone in hating that one guy on your team or figuring out why that other player isn’t getting enough ice time. It also educates you on the other conferences and divisions which your team will hopefully see down the road in May.
Throughout this journey of a season (isn’t it wonderful to have a full season again?), we were all graced with Olympic hockey which created a perfect opportunity for the casual hockey fan to learn about other teams. Who the heck is Bobby Ryan and why are we upset he isn’t being selected? Who is Cam Fowler? What is Blake Wheeler? All of these questions led to learning and eventually seeing these guys play.
Undoubtedly the biggest story from Team USA was TJ Oshie and his dominance in the shootout. The most exciting game of the Olympics for the American team (and if you disagree with this, PLEASE comment below) was against Russia, and Oshie was quite literally on the front line of this win. TJ Oshie was only one of ten St. Louis Blues to go to Sochi – 3 Americans, 2 Canadians, 2 Swedes, a Russian, a Czech and a Slovakian – so common sense might tell you that this team is good. Why not watch, right?
You’d be smart to get into them now, if Oshie’s shootout antics and Backes’ dog rescuing heroism didn’t convince you last month. The team, at 101 points, is a win shy of a playoff lock and the only team to break triple digits in points by a long shot this season. They’ve spent the better part of this season rolling over the competition so much so that it’s shocking. Their loss to the Blackhawks last night was the first loss surrendered to Chicago all season. To be so dominant over your competition – and over the Western Conference, which has been stellar for seasons now – is scary and exciting.
The reason it’s so fun to watch the Blues (winning aside) is that these guys seem like they’re having fun. They’re invested in what they’re doing. They aren’t going through the motions or being lazy. Even when they lose, you know they’ve left every ounce of energy out there. They’re reminiscent of the Rangers team that should have won in 2012; fast, gritty, tough, passionate and compatible with one another. Everyone knows about Oshie’s quick hands and everyone knows about Backes’ and his affinity for Cally-esque toughness (the meat line? You can’t make this up) and maybe even Shattenkirk, too. But once you watch a game, you’ll find new players to be interested in.
It’s hard to not notice Alex Pietrangelo, an Erik Karlsson-esque defenseman who’s already been touted as a future Norris trophy winner. Pietrangelo is 3 points shy of the second 50 point year of his career. Pretty decent for a 24 year old, right? Then there’s Vladimir Sobotka, selected to the Czech Olympic team but unable to play due to injury. He’s as underrated and multifaceted a player as you’ll find; he can be the guy to get under the skin of whoever he’s playing, drawing penalties, or he can snipe a goal or set up a beautiful play. He’s an energetic and talented player that you can’t help but notice.
This team will be fun to watch in the playoffs, provided you’re not watching them play your team for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Though I want the Rangers to win it all, I think a great alternate final would be Blues-Bruins. What teams are you excited to notice come playoff time?